Germany 1, Argentina 0: final thoughts on a brilliant World Cup

World Cup 2014 is in the books. Congratulations to Die Mannschaft, and also to Argentina for a fantastic effort.

Mario Götze buries the winner

It was a tournament for the ages. 11 stray observations, in no particular order.

1: While the political and economic controversies surrounding this tournament were driven by very real concerns, the tournament itself was marvelous. I’m not one who can easily compartmentalize when it comes to corruption and moral issues in sport, and I have been constantly aware of the protests against the Cup, which was in many eyes an $11B debacle. Acknowledging that, the actual competition had everything – drama, brilliant play, agony, ecstasy, epic meltdowns, upsets and more. It also had, sadly, diving, cannibalism and enough horrific officiating to last us the rest of the century. Two of those things will likely be subjects for future posts.

2: The best team won. Four years ago I predicted Germany over Ghana in the 2014 final. I was half right, anyway. This German side has amazing talent, depth, discipline, technical brilliance, speed, a will of steel, and let’s remember that they were playing without their best striker.

3: The final was a fantastic match, worthy of a tournament of this quality. Argentina was, in the estimations of most (including me), overmatched. They had brilliant attacking in Messi, Higuain, Aguero, di Maria and Lavezzi, but any team with Martin DiMichaelis in the back is going to be lucky to hold a Belfast pub league side to five goals. That they were able to marshal such an unflinching defensive effort was truly remarkable, and had they capitalized on their opportunities they may well have won it all in regulation time.

4: Speaking of which, Gonzalo Higuain is going to be having nightmares of that miss for the rest of his life. You know the one I’m talking about. Ditto Rodrigo Palacio.

5: Okay, okay, maybe I won’t wait for a future post. Jesus H. Donaghy, the reffing was terrible. I mean, it was no worse than the rest of the tournament, but Bastian Schweinsteiger got a card when I’m not sure there was even a foul. Just a dive from Lavezzi. A couple minutes later, another dive by Lavezzi. Later on, German left back Benedikt Höwedes got a yellow card for a foul that could easily have been a straight red. And then, on that collision between Higuain and Manuel Neuer at the edge of the box, somehow the ref saw a foul on the Argentine. I watched the replay from multiple angles and what I saw was a straight red card on Neuer for a flying knee to the side of the head. Also, maybe – not sure on this – but maybe a hardball for handling the ball outside the box. I was pulling for Germany, but that doesn’t make me blind or stupid. They were damned lucky on that play.

6: Re: diving. The tournament was thick with simulation, starting with Fred’s game-changing fainting spell in the box in the opening match. Arjen Robben was the second coming of Greg Louganis out there, but in the end, only one card was issued for diving in the entire tournament: yesterday, in the consolation match, Brazil’s Oscar was taken down in the box for a clear penalty, but the ref brandished the yellow at him. Understand, there was so much obvious contact there that the defender had to come off the field because he injured himself hacking Oscar. Next Cup they should make the refs wear big shoes and bright red noses, just to properly set everyone’s expectations.

7: I ain’t quite done speaking my mind yet. The tournament saw card after card for ghost fouls while periodic instances of attempted murder went unsanctioned. Go ask Neymar, who sustained a broken motherfucking vertebra from a flying knee to the back. The ref?

Sgt-Shultz-I-see-nothing

7: Some interesting factoids.

  • The winning goal was scored by Mario Götze off a pass from Andre Schürrle. Both were subs, and they’re also the first two players to appear for Germany who were born post-reunification. That probably means something, although I’m not sure what just yet.
  • Germany wins their fourth Copa, tying them with Italy. Only Brazil has more, with five.
  • Germany became the first European squad to win a Cup in South America.

8: Did I say Brazil? Yow. Yeah, talk about purely and simply not being good enough. The team has attempted to adjust to a more rigid global style in recent years, and it isn’t really working. Neymar was wonderful, and is truly in the mode of past generations of stylish Brazilian footballers. But when Fred and Jo are your strikers, you’re going to hit, full speed and lips first, a glass ceiling. Much soul searching is going to be required. It will be interesting to see what kinds of conclusions the federation reaches.

9: The leading cause of nose-picking? Being in the crowd at a televised sporting event and having the camera pointed at you.

10: FIFA needs killing. No real new data here. Just saying. I’m already itching to get back to the Qatar scandal, honestly.

11: Lionel Messi named player of the tournament. Probably justified, because without him Argentina gets nowhere near the final. A lot is going to be made of his legacy if he doesn’t win the World Cup – shadow of Maradona and all that – but let’s understand a couple things. First, take away the moment that defines Maradona’s legacy – the “Hand of God” – and he isn’t Maradona, either. Second, Messi is never going to accomplish at the national level what he has at the club level, for two simple reasons: Xavi and Iniesta aren’t Argentinian. I’m taking nothing away from Leo, who’s just fucking incredible. But it isn’t fair to beat him up because his teammates on the national side aren’t as good as his teammates at Barca.

Stay tuned. I have more post-tournament thoughts percolating….

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12 thoughts on “Germany 1, Argentina 0: final thoughts on a brilliant World Cup”

  1. Agreed on pretty much everything. All in all, this was a wonderful world cup for spectators. There were very few stinker games, and quite a few interesting ones which could have gone either way, US/Belgium in particular, and anything Ghana was involved in, it seemed. There was less thuggishness than the last time around as well, although there was still enough that was either ignored or completely missed by officials. My only general disagreement was with Messi as player of the tournament. He’s a great player, but he didn’t have a great tournament–as you say, this isn’t Barcelona. I would have gone with Daley Blind of Netherlands, a tireless and faceless general directing pretty much everything in front of him. But I suppose it needs to go to someone in the final game

  2. Yeah! Now we don’t have to spend another second watching or thinking about soccer for four years. (Of course, instead we can watch ESPN speculate on what college various 8th graders might go to, which sucks, but is still better than soccer.)

      1. Sure you will.

        This was a good tournament, at least in part because the U.S. won some despite expectations. (Although the US was ranked 13th in the world before the tourney and made the round of 16, so I think the dour expectations were a bit overdone. Lazy media looking for a “plucky underdog” storyline.)

        And soccer is becoming more popular in the U.S., primarily driven by youth soccer, but also helped by availability of real-time world class soccer on TV. The youth thing could fade a bit, since that’s at least in part because it’s seen as a safer alternative to football, suitable for both boys and girls, and as a “white refuge” sport, where white suburban kids can make teams because fewer black/poor kids compete. That last factor may or may not last.

        However, the WC is still a diversion and soccer’s a niche sport here and will continue to be for at least three or four more generations. I watched some of this cup and enjoyed it, the same way I enjoy watching curling and ski jumping during the winter Olympic, (and just like people outside the U.S. watch the Superbowl.) However, I didn’t really know what I was watching like I do when I watch major U.S. sports. 4-3-2-1 vs. 3-4-3? Huh?

        So I’m delighted people (meaning northern EU and non-Europeans) enjoyed it. Glad the best team won, because I like to believe in a world of cause and effect. And I get your passion for the sport–I’m the same way about the world’s greatest sporting event, the Tour de France.However, I really doubt there were many new converts that will now become passionate fans.

      2. This was a good tournament, at least in part because the U.S. won some despite expectations. (Although the US was ranked 13th in the world before the tourney and made the round of 16, so I think the dour expectations were a bit overdone. Lazy media looking for a “plucky underdog” storyline.)

        Ah, FIFA ratings. The same ones that have Brazil #2, Portugal #3 and the mighty Swiss at #6. Yeah, those are a running joke with everyone who follows the game.

        The US is probably, year in and year out, a top 15 team in the world. That they cleared the group stage wouldn’t be especially remarkable, except that it was (despite Portugal being overranked) a very, VERY tough group. So no, let’s not make too much of it, but let’s not make too little of it, either.

        However, the WC is still a diversion and soccer’s a niche sport here and will continue to be for at least three or four more generations.

        You didn’t read my series on this subject, did you? Soccer is already the #2 spectator sport in the country among 12-24s. It outdraws the NBA and NHL and WC ratings beat the World Series and NBA Finals. Not three or four generations – one generation.

        I really doubt there were many new converts that will now become passionate fans.

        We’ll see. I’m amazed that you, of all people, are so adamant about ignoring hard data, though.

  3. We will see. Remember the tennis boom of the seventies? The golf boom of the eighties?

    I like data, I’m just suspicious of the data you cite. #2 spectator sport? By what measure–paid attendance or television ratings or self-reported viewership? I cant believe that more 12-24 year olds go to soccer games than football and basketball. (I cant even believe that more 12-24 year olds go to MLS than to college football and basketball in the U.S.) (I’m not even that sure it outdraws baseball and auto racing.)

    I don’t doubt that soccer outdraws the NHL, but does it outdraw ice dancing during the Olympics? A four year event with patriotic overtones can get huge ratings, but that doesn’t mean it has sustained popularity.

    Until it’s the first choice of the best athletes, it’s a niche game.

    1. I like data, I’m just suspicious of the data you cite. #2 spectator sport? By what measure–paid attendance or television ratings or self-reported viewership? I cant believe that more 12-24 year olds go to soccer games than football and basketball. (I cant even believe that more 12-24 year olds go to MLS than to college football and basketball in the U.S.) (I’m not even that sure it outdraws baseball and auto racing.)

      It’s from ESPN, but I can’t swear to the methodology. What we DO know, and empirically, is that TV ratings are surging, attendance at matches is surging, and it’s booming the kinds of urban cultural centers that historically foreshadow broader diffusion around the country.

      I don’t doubt that soccer outdraws the NHL, but does it outdraw ice dancing during the Olympics? A four year event with patriotic overtones can get huge ratings, but that doesn’t mean it has sustained popularity.

      We aren’t talking about once-every-four-years special events. We’re talking sustained annual ratings for club and international matches.

      Until it’s the first choice of the best athletes, it’s a niche game.

      Ah. So baseball and basketball are niche sports. First I’d heard of this.

      1. Many things you haven’t heard of apparently, like data integrity. while in a post you wrote you call it a “complex data set,” in fact this is the result of an opinion poll of 1500 folks, so with a 12-24 cell you’re talking a few hundred folks. also it’s self reported data among a fickle segment. (so it’s crap data to begin with.) AND the latest version of that very poll suggests that “2nd in popularity” is an overstatement.doing apples to apples (professional sports leagues,) soccer actually comes in 6 of 7.

        http://www.espnfc.com/major-league-soccer/story/1740529/mls-catches-mlb-in-popularity-with-kidssays-espn-poll

        you should also note that this is one in a series of polls celebrating soccers ascendancy and they all come from a network that televises soccer games, so there may be a little self interest at play here.

        A more interesting (and compelling) comparison is sports revenue data, where the big u.s. pro sports are 20X u.s. pro soccer.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_professional_sports_leagues_by_revenue

        And that’s undercounting since it doesnt track amatuer-in-name-only sports leagues, like the ncaa, which are another ten bil or so (almost all football and basketball.)

        http://espn.go.com/ncaa/revenue

        But in this case, no, baseball, basketball and track get the best athletes. (that’s why avg athlete salaries for basketball and baseball are almost identical, and the averages for football, etc follow.) Then football. Then the minor sports–gymnastics, swimming, water polo.

        obviously, it’s a little difficult to be absolute about it. a 7 foot guy only has a few sports and a few positions he can play–basketball, volleyball, soccer (goalie,) baseball (pitcher,) tennis, water polo. But among those athletes who have a choice, baseball (deoin, bo jackson, dave winfield, samardzia) and basketball (lebron) get first choice over football

        i’m not arguing you’re wrong about soccer taking over. i just think it’s going to take generations, plural. i think it entirely possible that over three generations soccer will become number 2 or 3 in the u.s. and the big loser will be baseball. wouldn’t surprise me if baseball becomes an ethnic sports among first generation hispanics, much like the nba has a very strong ethnic connection.

      2. First, the ESPN data isn’t what I’d like. I do draw some inference from the way the networks – ESPN, NBC and FOX – have really upped their bidding for soccer rights. I’d love to see their proprietary data and projections.

        Past that, you seem to be arguing mostly with a point I’m not making. No, soccer isn’t the nation’s #1 sport yet. It’s damned close to catching hockey, though. Also, if you read the rest of my series, you’ll note that the ascendancy of soccer is paralleled by some significant problems for football. Hoops is going to remain very strong and continue to grow globally, I think, but baseball’s pace is going to continue eroding its popularity. Remember – at the moment MLB players walked off the field in 1993 for the strike (and I was at the last game played that day, in fact) – baseball was still even with the NFL in popularity. A lot can happen in a generation.

        You think it’s going to be several generations. It might be a couple before it passes football, but in 20 years it will be well past hockey and perhaps as big as baseball.

        Finally, yes, I KNOW it still doesn’t get first pick of our top athletes. I’m the guy who wrote that post, remember?

        http://scholarsandrogues.com/2014/05/21/predicting-the-usmnt-world-cup-starting-11-in-an-alternative-universe/

        #trollthis

      3. I’m trying to reply to Sammy, but he’s turned off the reply button, so i will have to do it here.

        Yes, in 1983 I heard Neil Pilson, then head of CBS Sports say soccer would never be big on TV because there was no stoppages in which to place commercials. we’re well past that. We’re not debating that it will get big. Just how fast is the issue. i think at least 60 years.

        sports popularity is transient though. if i remember right, at one time bike racing was the most popular pro sport in america. and after that boxing. so it’s possible it will be faster. however, “faster” does not mean “soon.”

        And yes, I think MLB deserves to lose its position because of its nasty union. i get that work stoppages are necessary in pro sports because it’s the only way to get fair value from the owners, who have a monopoly and collude to raise prices and depress salaries. but mlbpa has been very, very obnoxious about it. i’ll never forgive them.

      4. I’m trying to reply to Sammy, but he’s turned off the reply button, so i will have to do it here.

        I ain’t turned nothing off. What are you talking about?

        Yes, in 1983 I heard Neil Pilson, then head of CBS Sports say soccer would never be big on TV because there was no stoppages in which to place commercials. we’re well past that. We’re not debating that it will get big. Just how fast is the issue. i think at least 60 years.

        I don’t know that I expect to live another 20 years, but if I do we’ll review this conversation then. I’ll bet you a steak dinner.

        And yes, I think MLB deserves to lose its position because of its nasty union. i get that work stoppages are necessary in pro sports because it’s the only way to get fair value from the owners, who have a monopoly and collude to raise prices and depress salaries. but mlbpa has been very, very obnoxious about it. i’ll never forgive them.

        I’m not sure the MLBPA is anywhere near as bad as the owners, and when you look at the role they’ve played in making free agency a reality they deserve a lot of credit. Historically, anyway. If I were a player I’d rather have the MLBPA than the NFLPA, which is basically ownership’s bitch. No guaranteed contracts? That’s another way of saying we don’t have a contract.

        The world football model would be all kinds of fun here. 100% free agency and the most powerful players union on the planet. Regardless of what the contract says, if the player wants out he can almost always get out. Makes for lots of good drama. The recent LeBron thing was freakin’ nothing for media excitement compared to what you’d have in a system like that. Bidding would have begun at $75M a year and you’d have had multiple bidders, too.

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